Artists target drone operators with a giant portrait of one of their victims

8 Apr
A portrait of a drone victim in Pakistan as seen from a drone. (

A portrait of a drone victim in Pakistan as seen from a drone. (

Waging Nonviolence, Informed Comment,, The Indypendent

In a brilliant creative action, an art collective with the help of enthusiastic locals unfurled an enormous poster in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of a young girl who lost her parents and two younger siblings to a drone strike in August 2009.

The portrait is entitled #NotABugSplat, which is a reference to the term “bugsplat,” used by drone operators to dehumanize victims of their missile strikes. Rather than seeing small, grainy figures comparable to insects on their computer screens, drone operators who happen to fly over this heavily-bombed, rural area near the border of Afghanistan will now be confronted with the image of this innocent girl looking back at them.


Launched by a collective that includes Pakistanis, Americans and others involved with French artist JR’s Inside Out Project — in collaboration with Reprieve UK and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights — the artists involved hope to create a dozen more of these installations around Pakistan.

This art project, which has garnered significant media attention around the world, is just the latest development in the burgeoning anti-drone movement. As Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and Kate Chandley conclude in an article that reviews some of the recent highlights, “efforts to curb the use of killer drones have made remarkable headway this year.”

While there is still much to be done, there is evidence that the mounting pressure against drones both at home and abroad is having an impact on policy. Although President Obama dramatically escalated the drone war in Pakistan over his first two years in office, the number of drone strikes and casualties peaked in 2010 and have dramatically fallen ever since.


According the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were no confirmed civilian casualties in Pakistan in 2013 and more than 100 days have passed since the last drone strike in the country — the longest recorded pause in attacks since they began 10 years ago. And as Spencer Ackerman reported last year for Danger Room, the long boom in military spending on drones is over.

To continue to build awareness around drone strikes — and the movement to end their use — a broad coalition of organizations and individuals have organized Spring Days of Action. Their website lists dozens of creative actions planned around the country as part of this coordinated campaign over April and May.

5 reasons the already obscene national security budget is larger than it appears

5 Mar

March 5, 2014

Waging Nonviolence, Salon, AlterNet, Truthout

When President Obama released his budget for 2015 on Tuesday, which included $495.6 billion for the Pentagon, the likely suspects screamed that the sky is going to fall. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon said the funding level is so low that it’s “immoral,” while the notorious climate denier Sen. James Inhofe — who is a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — declared that: “Today our enemies don’t fear us and our allies no longer respect us.” Strong words. Also, completely disconnected from reality.

Not only does this budget allocate a mere $420 million less than the Defense Department received from Congress this year, it represents just a fraction of the actual amount that will go towards maintaining the massive U.S. security apparatus. To get a more accurate picture of the true cost of the American empire, various programs and line items that do not fall under the Pentagon’s base budget must be included in this tally.

1) War spending: Despite the fact that Obama still officially plans to end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of the year, the budget includes $79.4 billion for the war in 2015. Granted, that is only a placeholder. The actual figure will be decided on later, but it does give a sense of what is to be expected, which is essentially a continuation of the tragic status quo.

2) Veterans: To take account of the total price tag of the many wars that the United States has fought — and continues to fight — the long-term cost of providing for veterans should be included. To meet these needs, $68.4 billion has been requested for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

3) Intelligence: With the CIA responsible for hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and the NSA secretly assisting the military with its assassination program around the world — as was recently exposed — it seems only right to include the proposed budget of $45.6 billion for the National Intelligence Program in this calculation.

4) Homeland Security: In any honest account of our actual “defense” spending, the $38.2 billion requested for the Department of Homeland Security should naturally be factored in, since it includes funding for cybersecurity, the TSA and border patrol.

5) Nuclear weapons: The proposed $8.3 billion associated with maintaining a “safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent,” as well as the ensuing $5.6 billion required for disposing of nuclear waste fall under the Department of Energy’s budget.

This is by no means a complete accounting of security-related costs that are hidden in other parts of the budget — such as military aid to foreign countries  — but when these most obvious expenses are added up, the price tag jumps to $741 billion. To get a better sense of how staggering that figure is, it breaks down to more than $23,000 per second, every second of the year.

It also represents 73 percent of the trillion dollar discretionary budget, which includes spending for education, transportation, housing, food and the environment. That means that — if this budget is approved — at least 73 cents of every dollar that Congress will decide how to spend next year, will go to propping up the most expensive military machine on the planet, instead of taking care of the millions of Americans who struggle every day to meet their basic necessities. Now that is what I call immoral.

Learning from shortcomings and other movements

23 Jul

July 23, 2012

First published by Mobilizing Ideas

The 10-year anniversary for the movement that sprung up against the war in Iraq is on the horizon, and it presents an opportune time to reflect on its progress, and more importantly, the lessons that can be learned from its shortcomings.

While activists were busy organizing in the fall of 2002, the dramatic debut of the movement’s true size and global dimensions took place on February 15, 2003. On that historic date, millions took to the streets around the world in the largest antiwar protest in history. Two days later, Patrick Tyler wrote in The New York Times that there were now perhaps “two superpowers on the planet—the United States, and worldwide public opinion.”

This was no doubt an impressive show of force, but it ultimately did not faze President Bush, who quipped that letting the protests influence his decision to invade Iraq would be like saying “I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group.” This brazen retort from the president wasn’t mere posturing. A little more than a month later, bombs started raining down on Baghdad once again.

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Participation is everything — a conversation with Erica Chenoweth

14 Jul

July 14, 2012

Waging Nonviolence

Over the last year and a half, an historic wave of uprisings and revolutions has engulfed much of the world and done more to legitimize the power of nonviolence than anything since the fall of the Soviet Union. Just as Tunisians kicked off this global nonviolent upheaval, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan were putting the finishing touches on their recent book Why Civil Resistance Works, which is a must read for anyone interested in the dynamics behind these movements’ successes and failures.

Rather than relying solely on case studies and anecdotal evidence to make a case for the power and potential of nonviolent action, they systematically cataloged as many violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns since 1900 as they could — compiling a data-set of 323 cases in total — in an attempt to reach a greater understanding of the comparative effectiveness among these different methods of struggle. After painstakingly collecting all of this information and crunching the numbers, they discovered — to even their own surprise — that nonviolent campaigns were nearly twice as effective as armed campaigns over the past century.

Not only are Chenoweth and Stephan’s findings supported by extensive data, which are included in their book and a free online appendix, but the authors provide deeply nuanced analysis of why nonviolent struggle has proven to be so much more effective than violence. I recently caught up with Erica Chenoweth, who is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, to get her thoughts on the nonviolent movements that have exploded since her book was published. In an email interview, she discussed some common mistakes made by activists, the ever-worsening crisis in Syria and tips that the Occupy movement might glean from the findings in her book.

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Nonviolence, Muslim Style: From Ghaffar Khan to Tahrir Square

4 Aug

August 4, 2011

Religion Dispatches

“Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today
Amitabh Pal
Praeger (2011)

When the mass nonviolent movements that brought down longtime U.S.-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt this year captured the world’s attention, The Progressive’s managing editor Amitabh Pal joked that it made his new book, “Islam” Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today, both “more topical and dated at the same time.”

While many books will no doubt be written about the momentous events that are unfolding in the Middle East, many of them will doubtless leave out the prehistory. By exploring the rich tradition of nonviolent resistance in the Muslim world—from Palestine and Pakistan, to Kosovo and the Maldives—Pal dispels the oft-repeated misconception that what we are witnessing in the Arab Spring is without precedent. He recently spoke with Religion Dispatches about why Islam has been so maligned in the West, what makes the religion compatible with nonviolence, and the important role that women are playing in the ongoing struggles for democracy and social justice in the Middle East.

What first made you want to write a book about nonviolence and Islam—as neither a Muslim yourself nor a scholar of the religion? 

I didn’t initially approach the subject as that of Islam but as nonviolence. When the events of September 11 happened and the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, I remembered as a young man hearing about an associate of Gandhi named Ghaffar Khan. So I thought I’d write about him. Through a series of contacts I was able to actually speak to his family in Peshawar, where they control a political party. They are not exactly living up to his ideals—they claim to, but it’s dubious. His grandson was happy to speak with me. I wrote an article about him, and that is how I got interested in Islam and nonviolence.

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RT interview on Yemen

10 Jun

I was on RT, Russia’s 24/7 English-language news channel, today to talk about the news that the US has stepped up its covert war in Yemen in recent weeks with increased strikes by fighter jets and armed drones. Click here to watch the video.

Is there no other way in Libya?

25 Mar

March 25, 2011

Waging Nonviolence, Common Dreams, The Indypendent

One of the arguments that is being forwarded by proponents of military intervention in Libya is that Qaddafi is literally crazy and therefore cannot be reasoned with or expected to step down without force.

In an article for Tikkun, entitled “Libya: Acid Test for Nonviolence?,” Metta Center for Nonviolence president Michael Nagler, who I deeply respect and have personally learned a great deal from, makes an argument for war along these lines:

We in the nonviolence field will recognize this as a “madman with a sword” analogy. Gandhi said flatly that if a madman is raging through a village with a sword (read: assault rifle — or Glock Automatic) he who “dispatches the lunatic” will have done the community (and even the poor lunatic) a favor. Here are Gandhi’s exact words, from The Hindu, 1926:

Taking life may be a duty…. Suppose a man runs amok and goes furiously about, sword in hand, and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lunatic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent man.

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